By Nikki Phipps
Did you know there are orchids you can grow outside in the garden? These are called terrestrial (meaning in the ground) orchids, and growing these types of plants can be easier than you think, provided you choose the right species and pay attention to their cultural needs.
One such species is the white egret flower (Habenaria radiata), an Asian species native to Japan. The plant is hardy to Zone 5. Let’s find out more about growing egret flowers in the garden.
The Egret Bulb Plant
The egret orchid, or egret bulb plant, what exactly is it? Exhibiting an impressive pearly white flower with a broad heavily fringed lip, this impressive orchid flower resembles an egret bird in flight. In fact, its Japanese name, Sagi-sou, is derived from its egret-flying appearance. Sagi is the Japanese name of a white egret or heron.
Growing from pea-like tubers, the small, fleshy strap-like foliage comes up in the spring but doesn’t bloom until late summer. However, once in bloom, there can be more than twelve white blossoms on one flower spike that will bloom for weeks. There are also several other cultivars available with variegated leaves and flower selections.
Growing Egret Orchids
Egret flowers can be grown in full sun to partial shade. When growing egret orchids in the garden, plant the tubers 2-3 inches deep in the spring after all danger of frost has passed in sandy, well-drained soil with moderate to constant moisture.
Egret flower will not tolerate any dry conditions. In fact, because egret flower is a terrestrial orchid found in very wet conditions, such as bogs, in the wild, it should be planted and treated as a bog plant when grown in the home garden. Applying sphagnum moss will help to retain moisture.
Reaching 12-15 inches tall, this beautiful flower makes a wonderful addition to any garden. Egret flower makes an attractive companion to other bog plants including carnivorous species such as pitcher plants. In addition to bog-like environments, egret flowers can also be grown in containers.
Egret Flower Care
You should prune the stems back after the growing egret flowers have faded, but allow the foliage to die back naturally, as this stores energy for next year’s blooming.
While these plants require plenty of moisture during their active growth, in winter egret flowers must be kept dry or their tubers will rot. If you grow them in pots, do not water them after the leaves die. The pots can be stored in a dry environment (garage, closet, etc.).
If you live outside its hardiness area or somewhere receiving an abundance of winter moisture, consider digging the plant up and bringing it inside, placing the tubers in zip-loc storage bags with slightly moist vermiculite. Store these in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator. Check on them once a month to be sure it isn’t too wet or too dry. You can replant the bulbs next spring.
If you choose to leave your plants outdoors during the winter, mulching for winter protection is recommended. Use a lightweight mulch that will not hold excess water such as shredded leaves or straw.